Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black was born in Santa Monica, California in 1969 and raised in Hermosa Beach, later moving to Culver City with his dad after his parents split. At school he excelled at drama enrolling at UCLA as an adult, but he dropped out as a sophomore to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. He already had a little bit of TV experience, his earliest screen appearance being in a 1982 commercial for Activision’s video game Pitfall!
On television Black had small roles in the ABC series The Fall Guy in 1984 and The New Leave It to Beaver in 1985, and in the 1990s he could be seen in Northern Exposure, Margaret Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl, Touched By an Angel, The X-Files and David E. Kelley’s Picket Fences, but his most prominent recurring role that decade was as a sketch player in the highly acclaimed HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show, created and hosted by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Black has stayed in the world of television comedy for years afterwards, making guest appearances in such shows as Mad TV, The Office, Community, Drunk History, Documentary Now! and History of the World Part II.
Tenacious D is what led to Jack Black’s first main television role. Before becoming a TV star Black joined Culver City theatre group The Actors’ Gang, founded in 1981 by a group of actors that included artistic director, fellow UCLA student and future Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins. It was in that group where Black first met Walnut Creek musician Kyle Gass who attended UCLA with Robbins and would team up with Black to form the comedy rock group Tenacious D. The band’s name was derived from the phrase “tenacious defense” which was used by NBA sportscasters Walt Frazier and Marv Albert, and the duo’s musical and comedic antics were actually pretty popular in the underground music scene in L.A.
After Black found success on Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross teamed up with Black and Gass to create a series called Tenacious D for HBO which ran for 3 episodes airing in 1997, 1999 and 2000 and chronicled the fictional lives of the duo. The series featured many songs that would be later included in the band’s studio albums Tenacious D (2001) and The Pick of Destiny (2006), and Black and Gass also made a comedy musical film called Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny in 2006. It bombed at the box office but it still has a cult following so a decent amount of people find it funny.
Speaking of movies, Jack Black had been acting in many films ever since Tim Robbins cast him in the 1992 mockumentary Bob Roberts, afterwards appearing in Demolition Man (1993), Waterworld (1995), Bio-Dome (1996, where the band Tenacious D made their big screen debut), The Cable Guy (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Enemy of the State (1998) and the well-received critical hit High Fidelity (2000) in which Black got attention for his breakout role as record store employee Barry.
After showing his romantic chops in the Farrelly Brothers rom-com Shallow Hal (2001) opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black’s biggest hit (and the movie that first brought him to my attention) came in 2003 with Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, starring Black as a failed guitarist who becomes a substitute teacher and forms a rock band with the students in his music class. Audiences loved it, critics found it smart, funny, well-acted and full of life, and Jack Black became a megastar after its release, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his role (ultimately losing to Bill Murray for Lost in Translation).
Following School of Rock’s massive success, Jack Black played film director Carl Denham (who Black modeled after Orson Welles) in Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005), cook-turned-luchador Ignacio in the Jared Hess comedy Nacho Libre (2006), film composer Miles in Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy The Holiday (2006) in which Black plays Kate Winslet’s love interest, Po the panda in DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda (2008), a role Black would reprise in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) and the Netflix series Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight (2022-present), and the drug-addicted comedy actor Jeff “Fats” Portnoy in Ben Stiller’s satire Tropic Thunder (2008).
After starring in a lot of broad comedies, Jack Black reunited with Richard Linklater for a darker role in Bernie (2011), a biographical black comedy in which Black plays the real-life murderous mortician Bernie Tiede opposite Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. The film is one of Linklater’s best and it rightfully received a lot of acclaim, including for Jack Black’s performance which earned him another Golden Globe nomination which he lost to Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables, although film critic Roger Ebert hailed Black’s performance in Bernie as one of the best of the year.
Other film roles include children’s book author R.L. Stine in Rob Letterman’s horror comedy Goosebumps (2015), Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon the video game avatar of high school student Betheny (Madison Iseman) in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), later reprising the professor role in the 2019 sequel Jumanji: The Next Level, the narrator and adult voice of Stanley (Miles Coy) in Richard Linklater’s coming of age period tale Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022), Wolfman Jack in comedy biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) and Bowser in Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023).
Throughout all of his work in film and television, Black has stuck with Kyle Gass and the rock band Tenacious D, touring, releasing their third album Rize of the Fenix in 2012, hosting music festivals and even winning a Grammy for Best Metal Performance of 2015 for their cover of Dio’s “The Last in Line.” Their latest album Post-Apocalypto came out in 2018 and the band is still active to this day, which is not surprising because Tenacious D’s heavy metal rock opera style is unique in both the worlds of comedy and music and it’s easy to see why they have a cult fanbase, even if they have mostly divided mainstream critics. Plus the band has been politically active advocating for marijuana legalization and supporting the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama.
Due to his eclectic career Black has amassed a large fanbase across many groups, including filmgoers, TV viewers, music fans, comedy fans, gamers and even social media users who just plain love him for his personality.